Of Birds, Flowers & Me

“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?” (Matt. 6:24-25)

Priority check: when was the last time you worried about food, water, clothes or shoes? In Haiti, I’ve seen kids run around without shoes and wearing clothes that are three sizes too small. Their parents (moms, most likely) picked out clothing from a reject pile of American swag, donated to an aid agency by some corporation as a good deed. The parents don’t care as much about sizes. The boys and girls just need something. If they get a choice, that’s a bonus.

But this passage has massive meaning to people in wealthy nations, too, who are faced with the same choice that Jesus presents. “You cannot serve both God and money.” There is no balancing act here, our Savior says. A fervent capitalist and a monk cannot be equal in the Kingdom. One derives his security from money, the other from God. Can a Christian be wealthy? Absolutely. The love of money is the root of evil, not money itself. But a wealthy Christian has a daily decision to make: who will he trust in today, God or his wealth? A poor man doesn’t have such choice.

Jesus once said that it is easier for a pauper to enter God’s kingdom than a rich man (Mark 10:25). Why? A rich man’s motivation is divided. Remember the rich young ruler of Luke 18:18-25? He was acting as a good Jew, a follower of the Law, but he wanted to DO something to inherit eternal life. Jesus knew that the man’s wealth was his stumbling block, so He said, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” The rich ruler was devastated. To follow God, you must be willing to part with wealth if the opportunity arises to benefit the kingdom. It’s tough for someone to give up that financial security. Our society runs on the concept of financial security. And “God security” seems risky. He’s a person with a will and a master plan. Financial security seems to be subject to your will and your master plan. It’s the age-old debate of the human heart: God or self.

Let me say this before I go any father: God has blessed a lot of believers with wealth through various jobs, investments and unexpected blessings (lotto?). God is pleased to bless His children with gifts as any father should be. Sometimes it’s money. Most blessings are not. But those with wealth are responsible, under God, to be good stewards of what He has provided for them. This is a good thing. But God is interested that they use that wealth for Kingdom-honoring things and not to fatten themselves. Motivation is everything. Do you buy a more luxurious car — just because you can — or do you take that $45,000 and give it to a charity, church or mission that feeds and clothes the poor? Can you help a sister or brother in need — a widow, an orphan, a minister — with what God has provided? God sometimes blesses a believer with money. But what they do with it makes all the difference. Back to the scripture passage.

“…do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?”

Two Masters

I live in a fairly affluent community. Not my neighborhood, per say, but the town as a whole. The average household income in Flower Mound, Texas, is $108,000 a year. That’s average, a range between the financial analyst down the street and me, a missionary (I make very little, so I figure he must make a lot!). The average Texan household makes $48,000 a year, so this community is more than twice as wealthy. New homes here sell for $500,000 to one million. Schools build million-dollar sports facilities and our grocery stores are required by city ordinance to look pretty (with silver plating, no doubt — we’re not quite at gold standard). Flower Mound is a material community. Peer pressure is high to have stuff — the right stuff — and even in a down economy people are trying hard to save face and keep up appearance. Hypocrisy and money fit hand-in-hand. But, then again, it also fits with poverty.

No one can serve two masters. So whom are you serving? Where is your security? What keeps you up at night with worry?

I now know why missionaries are such pillars of faith. They have so little possession that faith in God is all they can cling to with any certainty! Everything they have is provided by someone else. I’ve yet to meet a self-made missionary. I know I won’t be one. Jesus points to two examples of this “God security.”

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Matt. 6:26-30)

Jesus called his crowd: people of “little faith.”Ouch! But He’s right! Faith and security are inseparable states of mind. Where you find your security is where you will place your faith. Is it found in another person? Is it in a job? Is it in a gang, a community of friends, or a locked door? A political party or social cause? What makes you feel secure?

Of Birds

I love to go on walks to watch the animals and birds go about their business. I used to be too busy to care but now I pay attention. Birds and squirrels, especially, fascinate me.

One day — a good decade ago — I was driving from my apartment in Gainesville, Texas, to get something to eat at a Wendy’s. I made a left turn onto a back road and then swerved dramatically to the left to avoid a water puddle. Actually, it wasn’t just a water puddle, it was an avian swimming pool, with a flock splashing about in a puddle of leftover sprinkler water. The birds quickly jumped out of the way, onto the grass next door, and I passed them by — startled. As I made a right turn into the Wendy’s I encountered two more birds drinking and bathing in a sprinkler puddle. It then hit me: God uses the wasteful, forgotten things of man to care for his creatures. Those birds were in paradise — an all-you-can-drink bar with a free shower. We humans intended to keep our grass green. God intended for a kazillion birds to have water. I thought about God’s provision differently after that simple lunchtime drive.

Yesterday I was on a walk to our neighborhood park, an old farm, and I noticed a few new things. First, I noticed how dry the ground was from a lack of rain. Summers are usually dry here in North Texas but my neighborhood has been especially so. All around we have had some rain but only a few drops here. The ground at the park was cracked and the grass was all different shades of color — mostly brown. The dryness has also affected two local park residents — a beaver and a duck. There is a large stock pond next to the park that a beaver has claimed as its home. The little guy has the whole place to himself (or herself), a paradise for water-loving animals. The duck has become a recent resident, I think. There’s plenty of room for the both of them. But yesterday I noticed that the pond was down at least a foot, maybe two. The water was looking scummy and thick. I feared for the creatures who have been given that pond, that their paradise may turn into a desert. But are they worried, too? This beaver can’t refill his own pond. God will have to do that.

I wonder what kind of faith animals can have. Are they aware of their Creator, perhaps more so than humans? Or do they just “live” without having the burden of worry? I don’t know. Interesting questions though, right? In any answer, God takes special care to provide for their needs.

Of Flowers

The same thing applies for the flowers, Jesus says. They are temporary and yet God allows them to bloom in season with colors so radiant that not even a king can hope to wear such style! When I walk I try my best not to step on any flowers. Maybe it’s my inner desire to see beauty endure or maybe a simple physical challenge I give myself, but I just hate to see flowers squashed. As I walked yesterday I noticed that flowers exist everywhere. You can find them in any context if you look hard enough. Even in the dry fields of a neighborhood park there are many species of wildflowers. The other day I found beautiful purple flowers underneath a dry, dead bush. I also found small berries growing along a fence line. Colors were everywhere! I challenge you: the next time you are walking, spot as many different colors as you can in the plant life. Even in a desert they are there, cared for by the Almighty Creator.

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”(Matt 6:31-34)

So if birds and flowers are cared for by God, do you think you and I will be cared for, too? Does God care for birds and flowers more than He does humans? The Master’s point is simple: we are not the masters of our own security and the sooner we let go of our false illusions of self-provision to focus on pursuing God’s higher kingdom, the happier we will be. Our task is to seek first God’s kingdom of peace and reconciliation and holiness. In the midst of our doing so, God will feed us and clothe us and care for our every need.

Our security is in God, not any institution of man. Not even the U.S. government or military. Or in any business, big or small

Of Water & Grass

I love this verse from Psalm 104, a great companion passage for Matthew 6:

He (God) makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains.
They give water to all the beasts of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
The birds of the air nest by the waters; they sing among the branches.
He waters the mountains from his upper chambers; the earth is satisfied by the fruit of his work.
He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate — bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart. (Psalm 104:10-15)

So, why me worry? I don’t know where my next paycheck will come or if my car will get towed away or if my pantry supplies will last another week. I don’t know if I’ll have enough money to avoid sleeping at the Edinburgh train station next month. The world tells me I should be worried. My flesh tells me to worry and be anxious. I listen too often to my flesh instead of to the Holy Spirit. If I was to hear the Spirit speak, He might relay the words of Jesus, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”” (Matt 11:28-30)

Our Creator cares. And He will provide in his own unique way. He may choose a puddle. Maybe a pond. If the beaver and duck will allow me, of course!

Be not anxious and be God’s!

— John